The Veterans Affairs Department could soon have a new leader.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve Robert McDonald’s nomination to be the next secretary. The full Senate could vote next week, with lawmakers hoping to get McDonald confirmed before they leave town for the August recess.
“Mr. McDonald brings us two very important qualities,” Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “No. 1, he is familiar with the military because he served for many years and he brings a passion to take care of our veterans. The other quality that he brings is that he has been the CEO of a major American corporation, and that experience gives him the tools to create a well-run and accountable VA.”
The committee held a confirmation hearing for McDonald on Tuesday, and the quick turnaround is of little surprise. The former CEO of Procter & Gamble has broad bipartisan support. Even some Republican senators — frequently critics of the department — have said his confirmation is all but guaranteed.
“I think you’re the right man for the job, and I think you’ll do a great job,” Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson told McDonald during the hearing.
And while senators gave him a warm welcome, they also have a long To Do List if he gets confirmed. McDonald is tasked with overhauling the department, fixing what has been called a “corrosive culture,” ensuring that veterans get timely access to care, and also making progress on myriad other issues, including cutting backlogged disability claims and reducing veterans’ homelessness.
McDonald said, if confirmed, he plans to make reforms during his first 90 days in office, including restructuring metrics for employees’ evaluations. He will also travel across the country in the first few months to meet with employees, veterans, and other stakeholders
The VA has been under fire in recent months amid an ever-growing scandal that includes allegations of data manipulation at medical facilities and disability claims offices, retaliation against whistle-blowers, and veterans dying while waiting for care or decisions.
Legislation aimed at providing extra funding to the department and increasing a veteran’s ability to get non-VA health care is stalled in a conference committee, as lawmakers haggle over a range of details, including how to pay for the proposal.
Asked about what he wants the legislation to accomplish, McDonald said he referred back to acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, a former West Point classmate.
“I think he’s talked about the resourcing needs that we need, and that’s all about access,” he said.
Gibson has been serving as the acting VA chief since Eric Shinseki stepped down in late May as the scandal surrounding the department worsened.